history

Delta Blues Museum

The Delta Blues Museum was established in 1979. This internationally-acclaimed museum showcases the history and significance of the Blues in this region. It features a wax figure of Blues great Muddy Waters and the famous Muddywood Guitar, videotape and slide-and-sound programs, photographs, recordings, books, memorabilia, archives, and much more. Stovall Plantation was the original home of the Muddy Waters Cabin, which is now located in its new home at the renovated Freight Depot on Blues Alley.

#1 Blues Alley
Clarksdale
Tel: (662) 627-6820
www.deltabluesmuseum.org

Admission:
Adult $7.00
Children $5.00 (ages 6-12)
Under 6 – Free

The Blues

This iconic sign welcomes visitors to the spot some residents claim is THE crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. It is the crossroads of two important highways in blues songs and history.

This iconic sign welcomes visitors to the spot some residents claim is THE crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. It is the crossroads of two important highways in blues songs and history.

The city of Clarksdale, situated on the Sunflower River in Coahoma County, Mississippi, is on the northern side of what was the most densely populated area of the Mississippi Delta. At the time of The Great Migration, Clarksdale was the first to welcome Delta farmhands, as well as their musicians and entertainers, on their plight out of the oppressive sharecropping system of the rural plantations and farmlands. Some went no further North, preferring to stay closer to home, seeking refuge and less agrarian employment in Clarksdale.

During the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s Clarksdale was home to Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner, to name just a handful of great bluesmen who staked their claim in Clarksdale.

By the 1950’s Clarksdale was also host to a now-legendary down-home radio station, WROX, which, like other stations in the region, hosted a number of popular bluesmen. Sonny Boy Williamson, most well-known for his King Biscuit Flour program on Helena, Arkansas’ KFFA, often broadcast on Clarksdale radio, as did Dr. Isiaih Ross and so many others.

Consequently, Clarksdale became the first urban center of the blues and it makes the most of that fact even today. The Mississippi Delta’s first blues museum, The Delta Blues Museum, and one of its first yearly blues festivals, The Sunflower River Blues Festival, are both located there, as is the Delta’s first motel made from discarded farm laborers’ shacks, The Shack Up Inn. If you believe in the Crossroads myth, between the town of Clarksdale itself and the site of The Shack Up Inn, there is a rather grandiose marker at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 where the dubious deal was deemed to have been devined.

A great deal of blues activity has occurred in Clarksdale in the last few years. In addition to all the above, there is a grand juke joint in Morgan Freeman’s & Bill Luckett’s Ground Zero Blues Club. It features blues and other forms of music many nights a week and plays host to some of the South’s great entertainers.

Tennessee Williams

Clarksdale is the childhood home of one of America’s most performed playwrights, Tom “Tennessee” Williams.

Young Tom’s grandfather Rev. Walter E. Dakin served as rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church from 1917-1932. Williams lived with his grandparents in Clarksdale for several years, and then visited regularly as he grew up. The church is still active today, and the former rectory is now the church office and home of the Tennessee Williams Rectory Museum.

If you visit in the fall, please join us for the 3-day Mississippi DeltaTennessee Williams Festival, held each October since 1992, which includes a kickoff party at the Cutrer Mansion; site-specific performances by local and visiting actors; talks by noted Williams scholars; Clarksdale and Delta history; student monologue and scene competition; and Porch Plays: works by Williams performed on porches in Clarksdale’s historic district. For the next festival dates & schedule please visit www.DeltaWilliamsFestival.com.

Williams’ plays and films set in or influenced by the Mississippi Delta include: SPRING STORM, BATTLE OF ANGELS, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, SUMMER AND SMOKE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, 27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, ORPHEUS DESCENDING, THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, BABY DOLL, KINGDOM OF EARTH and THE LOSS OF A TEARDROP DIAMOND as well as many other short plays, stories and poems.

Williams drew on his Clarksdale neighbors for famous character names such as Blanche, Stella, Brick, Baby Doll, Cutrer, and Wingfield. Their stories are told in the new Tennessee Williams Rectory Museum. The museum is currently open by appointment and during festivals. (Call 646 465 1578) or email RectoryMuseum@gmail.com to schedule, please allow at least 24 hours.)

Tennessee Williams’ plays have won two Pulitzer prizes. More of his plays have been made into Hollywood movies than any other playwright except Shakespeare. THE GLASS MENAGERIE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF are consistently named on lists of the greatest plays of all time.

Clarksdale & Coahoma County

Coahoma County was chartered February 9, 1836 following the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, and constitutes one of numerous counties formed from the Choctaw Cession of 1830. The County derives its name from the Choctaw word “Co-i-humma” meaning red panther. This name was indicative of the large number of panthers then infesting the upper regions of the Delta. Hernando DeSoto, was on a personal quest for gold in the New World when he discovered the Mississippi River in 1541. That DeSoto first looked out over the “great river” at Sunflower Landing in what would become, three centuries later, Coahoma County was the oldest theory uncovered by the United States DeSoto Commission report of January, 1939.

Clarksdale, founded by John Clark in 1848, was incorporated in 1882, and is now the major city of the County. Located at the head of navigation on the Sunflower River, many of Clarksdale’s businesses are built fronting this stream. The original site of Clarksdale was also the former intersection of two important Indian routes: The Chakchiuma Trade Trial which ran northeastward to old Pontotoc, and the Lower Creek Trade Paths which extended westward from Augusta, Georgia to New Mexico.

In 1892 Clarksdale became one of the seats of Coahoma County when a controversy of more than ten years was compromised by the passage of an act of the Legislature. This act divided the County into judicial districts with two seats of the justice: one at Friars Point, the other at Clarksdale. In 1930, the two judicial districts were abolished and Clarksdale became the county seat. Frequent floods, a fire in 1889, and very poor roads retarded the early growth of Clarksdale, but since 1900 Clarksdale’s growth has been consistent, and it is now one of the largest cities in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta.

The first cotton crop commercially produced entirely by machinery, from planting to baling, was grown during the year 1944 on 28 acres owned by the Hopson Planting Company of Clarksdale, Mississippi. The soil was prepared, crop seeded and cultivated by machines, weeds eradicated by flame, and the crop harvested with a mechanical picker. Also, Clarksdale has the distinction of being the home of the first franchised Holiday Inn in the world (Source: Linton Weeks, Clarksdale & Coahoma County: A History, Carnegie Public Library, Clarksdale, MS, 1982).

Clarksdale has also served as home at one time or another to: Muddy Waters, W.C. Handy, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cook, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, playwright Tennessee Williams, Ike Turner, the Staple Singers, the Five Blind Boys, and many others. Coahoma County (Friars Point) was the birthplace of late great Country & Western singer Conway Twitty.